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Character Foils for a Separate Peace

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December 16, 2012
Honors Literature and Composition
A Separate Peace Essay
Gene and Finny: Yin and Yang
A Separate Peace
In the novel “A Separate Peace” written by John Knowles, the two main characters, Gene Manu Gajanan
Forrester and Phineas, also known as ‘Finny’, serve as foils for each other. Gene is a lonely intellectual, who is mainly focused on academics, is mature, and is more serious about life. Finny, on the other hand, is a daredevil athlete who loves physical challenges. Yet Finny has Gene under a spell. Gene simply cannot get out of Finny’s clutches. Throughout the story, it is clear that Gene is very different from Phineas. Gene placed a very high value on academics that he had never failed a test in his high school career, until he befriended Finny. When Finny suggests that the two “ . . . go to the beach” to swim, Gene readily falls in with this plan (45).   The plan to study for the trigonometry test is shelved in favor of a night of fun with Finny. The result: Gene fails his trigonometry test.
Finny always has the ability to convince Gene to do ridiculous things that Gene, deep down does not want to do. For example, when Finny convinces sixteen-year-old Gene to jump from the tree into the river, Gene wonders, “Why did I let Finny talk me into things like this?” (17). In chapter four, Finny drags Gene away from his study session only to watch Leper to jump out of the tree. Furthermore, soon after Finny breaks his leg after he falls out of the tree, he makes it clear to Gene that, “… if I can’t play sports, you’re going to play them for me” (85). When Finny says this, Gene feels obligated to go forth with Finny’s command because Gene did cause Finny’s accident. When Finny returns to Devon after his time at the infirmary, he insists on training Gene for the 1944 Olympics. Finny also prevents Gene from enlisting in the army. It is clear that Finny really does have the ability to manipulate and convince Gene to do what pleases Finny.  


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